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New tech allows vehicles to converse and avoid accidents

V2V the next evolutionary step to prevent crashes.


June 12, 2012
by ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON: A Ford Taurus was seconds away from cruising through an intersection when suddenly a row of red lights pulsed on the lower windshield and a warning blared that another car was approaching fast on the cross street.

Braking quickly, the driver stopped just as the second car, previously unseen behind a large parked truck, barrelled through a red light and across the Ford’s path.

The display at a recent transportation conference was a peek into the future of automotive safety: cars that to talk to each other and warn drivers of impending collisions. Later this summer, the US government is launching a yearlong, real-world test involving nearly 3,000 cars, trucks and buses using volunteer drivers in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The vehicles will be equipped to continuously communicate over wireless networks, exchanging information on location, direction and speed 10 times a second with other similarly equipped cars within about 1,000 feet. A computer analyzes the information and issues danger warnings to drivers, often before they can see the other vehicle.

Called vehicle-to-vehicle communication, or V2V, more advanced versions of the systems can take control of a car to prevent an accident by applying brakes when the driver reacts too slowly to a warning.

V2V “is our next evolutionary step … to make sure the crash never happens in the first place, which is, frankly, the best safety scenario we can all hope for,” said David Strickland, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In addition to warning of cars running red lights or stop signs, “connected cars” can let drivers know if they don’t have time to make a left turn because of oncoming traffic. When driving on a two-lane road, the systems warn when passing is unsafe because of oncoming cars – even vehicles around a curve that the driver can’t see yet.

In a line of heavy traffic, the systems issue an alert if a car several vehicles ahead brakes hard even before the vehicle directly in front brakes. And the systems alert drivers when they’re at risk of rear-ending a slower-moving car.

It’s also possible for connected cars to exchange information with traffic lights, signs and roadways if states and communities decide to equip their transportation infrastructure with similar technology. The information would be relayed to traffic management centres, tipping them off to congestion, accidents or obstructions.

Correspondingly, cars could receive warnings on traffic tie-ups ahead and rerouting directions.

Since V2V relies on wireless technology, ensuring that the safety systems are reliable and can’t be hacked is another concern, NHTSA officials said.

The safety benefits of V2V won’t be fully realized until there is a critical mass of cars on the road that can talk to each other, and just where that point lies isn’t known. By the time the government sets standards and automakers are able to respond, it may be 10 years before the technology is widely available on new cars. It takes about 30 years for a new technology to work its way into the entire population of cars.

Some of the safety technologies for V2V are already available in cars, although they tend to be offered primarily on higher-end models.

A key difference is that most of the current technologies rely on radar or laser sensors to “see” other nearby vehicles. They can’t warn drivers about cars they can’t see, such as the car that ran the red light in the intersection demonstration, or an oncoming car around a curve in the road.

Together, the currently available technologies and the future V2V systems may effectively form a kind of autopilot for the road. Said Strassburger: “The long-term trajectory for these technologies is the vehicle that drives itself – the driverless car.”